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Sunday December 3rd, 2023

Social activists urge officials to care for marginalised citizens in COVID 19 fight

STRANDED IN PETTAH – Police and volunteers provided food, shelter and fresh clothing to around a hundred people stranded at the Pettah bus stand/supplied

ECONOMYNEXT – Sex-workers,  the homeless and migrant workers without a fixed abode are increasingly at risk of contracting COVID 19 and are falling through the cracks in the Sri Lankan system, social workers and Health Workers warned.

Spokesmen for two organisations working with sex-workers in Colombo and other districts told EconomyNext on condition of anonymity that at least two women in the trade, one from Colombo central and another from the Puttalam district, have been taken to hospital with signs of the disease and are under observation.

“Tracing their contacts will be very important if they are infected,” these grassroots workers observed.

The entire area, normally the busiest region in the country, is in lockdown with Police, the Army and the Navy deployed to prevent movement in or out of the zone.

Between 30 to a hundred people in the Keselwatte, Gunasinghepura and surrounding areas in Colombo central had been taken in by Public Health Inspectors and Police.

Around 40 of them from these areas had been taken by the Sri Lanka Navy to quarantine centres. They were in the buses that met with an accident at Warakapola recently and 29 of them were admitted to the local hospital with injuries sustained in the collision.

Army spokesman Colonel Vijitha Hettiarachchi told EconomyNext that since then they have been transported to the Punani quarantine centre.

Six of them are from the Ja-ela Suduwella area. They are men who travel on the intercity buses selling bottles of water and had become stranded in the Pettah area when the curfew was clamped down.

They are reportedly a group that had shared a cigarette along with the sex-worker and her male partner, local social workers said.

Social activists are calling on the government to reach out to these marginalized communities in order to make the fight against COVID 19 successful.

Paba Deshapriya of the Grassrooted Trust is urging officials to reach out to these communities who do not have proper addresses and even in some cases National Identity Cards to persuade them to come forward if they have symptoms of COVID 19 or think they have been exposed to the disease.

“We learned from the AIDS epidemic that attaching stigma to people prevents them from coming forward and being diagnosed allowing the spread of the disease,” she points out.

She told EconomyNext that officials must also let go of their baggage or preconceived notions of these people and include them in the programs.

“It is not that they are not in the records of the Health Department, they are well known,” Deshapriya said.

“Because of other health issues the sex-workers, men who have sex with men and the beach boys have been identified and there are records with the department. They at risk here in this epidemic as well,” she said. (Colombo, April 17, 2020)



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UAE investors express interest in Sri Lanka’s energy, tourism, ports, real estate: Ali Sabry

ECONOMYNEXT – A group of investors based in the United Arab Emirates have expressed their interest in renewable energy, tourism, ports, and real estates, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told Economy Next.

A Sri Lankan delegation led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe is in Dubai to take part in the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).

Sabry said a group of large investors met the President on Friday and discussed possible opportunities in Sri Lanka.

“We met big investors here particularly on renewable energy, tourism, port development and also infrastructure development and real estate. That’s where they are doing very well,” Foreign Minister told Economy Next.

“Our embassy will organize a higher-level business delegation to visit Sri Lanka to look at the available opportunities.”

“There is a lot of traction and interest in Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lanka has been exploring to attract investors to crisis hit Sri Lanka which declared bankruptcy in April last year with sovereign debt default.

Since then, most investors have taken a step back from investing in the island nation due to its inability to serve debts and uncertainty over such investments.

Several government officials said investors may start pouring dollars into Sri Lanka very carefully after they see some certainty of debt repayments. (Dubai/Dec 3/2023)

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Sri Lanka to push for green initiative investment “after OCC finalizing” debt deals – President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will push for investment into green initiatives globally after the Official Creditor Committee (OCC) finalizing on the island nation’s debt restructuring, President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Economy Next at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).

President Wickremesinghe along with local and global advisors has inaugurated three ambitious projects to convert climate change-led disaster funding, which is mostly seen as donations, into viable commercial enterprises involving private sector investments.

The idea is to rally all the global nations in the Tropical Belt threatened by disasters related to climate change and bargain collectively with advanced economies which emit more greenhouse gases into the environment resulting in global warming for more green initiatives like renewable energy projects.

Wickremesinghe initiated a Climate Justice Forum (CJF), Tropical Belt Initiative (TBI), and called on the world to help establish the International Climate Change University in Sri Lanka.

His moves have been welcomed by global leaders, though analysts said an initiative like TBI is a “bold and imaginary” step.

“This is the first step. We have now put forward the proposal,” Wickremesinghe told Economy Next on Sunday on the sideline of the COP28 in Dubai’s EXPO 2020.

“There is an interest. We have to wait for OCC finalizing (debt restructuring) before pushing for investments.”


Global investors are hesitant to invest in Sri Lanka due to its bankruptcy and sovereign debt default.

Sri Lanka is still recovering from an unprecedented economic crisis which has compelled the island nation to declare bankruptcy with sovereign debt default.

President Wickremesinhe during a forum on Saturday said his initiatives would help government in advanced countries not to use tax money of its own people for climate related disasters in other countries and instead, private sector investors could help by investing in renewable energy initiatives.

President Wickremesinghe’s government has been in the process of implementing some tough policies it committed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize the country and ensure sustainability in its borrowing.

Sri Lanka is yet to finalize the debt restructuring fully as it still has to negotiate on repayment schedule of commercial and sovereign bond borrowing.

The OCC and Sri Lanka had agreed on the main parameters of a debt treatment consistent with those of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement between Sri Lanka and the IMF.

The members of the Paris Club which are part of the Official Creditor Committee are representatives of countries with eligible claims on Sri Lanka: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America.

The OCC has said it was expecting other bilateral creditors to consent to sharing, in a transparent manner, the information necessary for the OCC to evaluate comparability of treatment regarding their own bilateral agreement.

The OCC also has said it expects that the Sri Lankan authorities will continue to engage with their private creditors to find as soon as possible an agreement on terms at least as favourable as the terms offered by the OCC. (DUBAI/Dec 3/2023)

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Sri Lanka alcohol regulations may be spurring moonshine: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s alcohol regulations may be reducing access to legal products and driving illegal moonshine sector, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said amid plans to change opening times of retail outlets.

Sri Lanka is currently discussing changing the opening times of bars (retail alcohol outlets), he said.

Sri Lanka’s excise laws may be contributing to the growth of illegal products, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at the annual meeting of Sri Lanka’s excise officers.

Over 20 years legal alcohol sales have grown 50 percent but illegal products are estimated to have grown 500 percent, he said.

It is not clear where the 500 percent estimate came from.

In Kandy there was a bar for every 6,000 persons but in Mullativu there was one for only 990,000 persons and people had to travel 80 kilometres to get to a legal outlet, Minister Siyambalapitiya had said.

However Sri Lanka has a widespread moonshine or ‘kasippu’ industry driven by high taxes on legal products.

The widely used ‘gal’ or special arrack is now around 3,500 rupees and may go up further with a hike in value added tax. About 2000 rupees of the sale price is taxes.

After a currency collapse and tax hikes legal alcohol sales have fallen, leading to local sugar companies burying ethanol, according to statements made in parliament.

An uneven distribution of bars may also be driving people towards alcohol.

Alcohol sales is controlled on the grounds that it is an addictive product which can lead to poverty, ill-health, bad behaviour and criminal activities, though advocates of high taxes ignore the poverty angle.

High taxes are promoted by temperance movements some of whom have called for outright prohibition in the last century.

Temperance movements spread among evangelical groups in the West and were also embraced by nationalists/moralists and independence movements in colonial authorities.

Prohibition in the US however led to more criminal activity as an organized crime took to bootlegging. (Colombo/Dec03/2023)

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